Editorial: Head-first success

It sounds, somehow, catastrophic.

Twenty-five years of plunging fortunes? How could that be good news?

Yet it is cause for celebration that next week marks a full quarter century since AJ Hackett made his international headline-grabbing bungy leap from the Eiffel Tower. Had it gone badly, it would have been unfortunate for Mr Hackett, his friends and family ... and that's about it.

It didn't go badly. The whoops and hollers from the man himself have been replicated by millions worldwide. Instead of besmirching some Parisian pavement with his head, Mr Hackett and his partner Henry van Ash went downwards and onwards.

They set up a commercial thrill-seeker operation, choosing Queenstown as the base for the world's first commercial bungy jumping. This decision, more than any other, propelled the resort to become what it is – the world capital of adventure tourism.

More than that, the company has been just about a paragon of doing what it does properly. AJ Hackett Bungy has proven a safe pair of hands for the lives that have been temporarily entrusted into it.

By its 20th anniversary, the company had thrilled more than 500,000 Queenstown bungy jumpers and 2 million worldwide, so its safety record is enviable.

Should the jump seem as safe as it actually is, it would be just about pointless. It doesn't.

The fear that surges through the jumpers, promptly followed by the exultant realisation that they are still alive, and feeling it so vividly, is essential to the appeal.

When the likes of the English 2011 Rugby World Cup squad went to Queenstown, the players were at liberty to take the plunge, but not to go skiing or snowboarding. This was a decision based on reasonable calculations of risk. Bungy jumping is safer than rugby. (In hindsight the team managers should have considered the risk factor of bars more closely, but at least no-one died.)

Variations on the bungy theme are legion and competitors have emerged hither and yon. When people stand on that bungy platform, the knowledge that millions have done so before, and emerged safely, falls away. What awaits them is truly a sensational thing.

The encouraging countdown rings in their ears. Generally, they jump. In that emotional surge, what they feel is less like a descent than a liftoff.

Little wonder it's a bucket-list undertaking for so many people.

The Marlborough Express